Tag Archives: Featured

CSTT at Six: What Have We Achieved – What Have We Learned?

By Martti Nissinen.

It is difficult to believe that the six years of CSTT as a Centre of Excellence funded by the Academy of Finland have passed. For six years, we have had the pleasure of being part of a vibrant company of biblical scholars, assyriologists, and archaeologists. CSTT has been a diverse, supportive, and open-minded community in which postdoctoral researchers, doctoral candidates, and senior scholars have got together and learned from each other. Altogether fifty people representing ten nationalities have been members of this community, and twelve colleagues from seven countries have visited us for shorter periods.

What have we achieved during these six years? And even more importantly: what have we learned?

First, I would like to mention the fulfillment of our educational potential: fourteen young researchers have completed their doctoral studies during these years. Two dissertations are currently being examined, and half-a-dozen are still underway.

The scholarly contribution of CSTT is impossible to summarize in a sentence or two. It covers a tremendous amount of new knowledge and perspectives on textual transmission and cultural developments from Sumerian times to Late Antiquity, from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, from cuneiform tablets to medieval biblical manuscripts. The statistics tell that the members of our four teams have since 2014 published ca. 60 scholarly books and ca. 500 research-based articles, ca. 350 of which are peer-reviewed – the numbers are round because many books and articles are still in print of forthcoming. Our members have (co-)organized fifty conferences and workshops that have brought hundreds of researchers not only to Helsinki but even to places like Tbilisi, Hongkong, and Beirut.

What we have been able to do is deeply gratifying. Listing achievements, however, is looking backwards while the future is even more about what we have learned.

We think better together. This is doubtless the best heritage of CSTT we can take with us wherever we continue our work.  We wanted to create a community in which different methodologies and theoretical approaches come together as an ongoing forum for exchange and learning – a non-hierarchical, inclusive space where we can safely move outside our comfort zones without the fear of becoming discredited. We have learned that methodological cross-fertilization is not easy and six years is not enough to change scholarly paradigms. But we also learned that if our encounters do not always lead to agreement, they may help to articulate the disagreement in an atmosphere of respect and friendship. If CSTT has succeeded in moving our fields of study towards a change of paradigm in academic working culture, it has not only been about changes in sacred texts and traditions but also about changing scholarship.

Did They Weep? A New Book on Judeans in Babylonia

By Tero Alstola

The ancient Near East provides us with very early textual evidence of human migration. In his new book Judeans in Babylonia, Tero Alstola studies Judean deportees in Babylonia in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Using cuneiform texts as his sources, he explores the life deportees and their descendants in Babylonia over several generations, focusing on the questions of socioeconomic status, culture, and integration into Babylonian society. Continue reading Did They Weep? A New Book on Judeans in Babylonia

Professor Martti Nissinen: “Biblical interpretation is always political”

Any reading of the Bible is always selective: the more political the agenda, the more biased the reading, says Professor Martti Nissinen. According to the researcher, ideals of gender equality have met with surprising resistance within some circles interpreting the Bible.

Read the whole interview from the University of Helsinki website.

Martti Nissisen haastattelu: “Mitä poliittisempi agenda, sitä tarkoitushakuisempi Raamatun luenta”

Kaikki Raamatun lukeminen on valikoivaa: mitä poliittisempi agenda, sitä tarkoitushakuisempi luenta, professori Martti Nissinen sanoo Helsingin yliopiston verkkohaastattelussa. Sukupuolten tasa-arvon ihanteet ovat tutkijan mukaan raamatuntulkinnassa nyt yllättävässä vastatuulessa.

Lue huippuyksikön johtajan uusi haastattelu kokonaan Helsingin yliopiston verkkosivuilta.

Register for “Living Communities and Their Archaeologies” conference (12–13 Sept 2019)

We warmly welcome you all to attend the conference “Living Communities and Their Archaeologies: From the Middle East to the Nordic countries” at the University of Helsinki on Thu 12 and Fri 13 September 2019.

You can REGISTER HERE (open until 5 sept) and find more information about the conference and its programme.

Conference venue: Athena 166 (Thu) and 167 (Fri), Siltavuorenpenger 3A, Helsinki. (Note that we have only limited seating available at the conference venue.)

The field of community archaeology has been growing for several decades and has been explored in many countries across the world, including countries in Northern Europe and the Middle East. One of the issues that has sprung up in this research and practice has been the fundamental issue of what we understand as “community archaeology”. This seemingly simple question refers both to the “communities” and the “archaeologies” concerned, and to the interrelations between them. Which communities are we addressing when doing community archaeology (and which are ignored)? What approaches to archaeology do we employ? Is it only excavation, does community archaeology end when the excavation season is over? How do we affect the community in which (or with which) we work? How does the community affect us, the archaeologists? And how can we measure and explain success or failure of “community archaeology” projects?

We are very happy to have as keynote speakers: Dr. Shatha Abu Khafajah (Hashemite University, Zarqa), Dr. Tawfiq Da’adli (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dr. Paula Kouki (City of Hamina / University of Helsinki), and Dr. Gabriel Moshenska (University College London).

The conference is sponsored by the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (www.helsinki.fi/anee) and the Centre of Excellence in Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions (www.cstt.fi)

(Photo courtesy of Gideon Sulimani)

Conference program: “The Strange and the Familiar: Identity and Empire in the Ancient Near East” (Aug 23–24)

The international conference “The Strange and the Familiar: Identity and Empire in the Ancient Near East” will take place at the University of Helsinki on August 23–24, 2019. The location of the conference is Porthania P673, Yliopistonkatu 3. The conference is generously hosted by the Centre of Excellence in Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions (CSTT), the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE), and the Finnish Institute in the Middle East (FIME).

Friday, August 23

9:10 – 9:30 – Gina Konstantopoulos; University of Helsinki
Defining Others, Defining Ourselves: Constructing Identity in Empire

Center and Periphery in the Late Bronze Age:

9:30 – 10:15: Müge Durusu-Tanrıöver, Bilkent University
The Identities of an Empire: The Case of the Hittite Empire and its Borderlands

10:15 – 11:00: Phillip Strosahl, University of Pavia
Identity and Place: The Use of Ālu and Mātu to Define People in Syria Under the Hittite Empire

11:00 – 11:15: Coffee Break

11:15 – 12:00: Jacob Lauinger, Johns Hopkins University
Imperial and Local: Audience, Identity, and the Idrimi Inscription

12:00 – 12:45: František Válek, Charles University
Foreigners and Religion at Ugarit

12:45 – 2:00: Lunch Break

Assyria and Babylonia
Moderator: Caroline Wallis, University of Helsinki

2:00 – 2:45: Jonathan Valk; Universiteit Leiden
An Empire State of Mind: Domesticating the Other in the Assyrian Empire

2:45 – 3:30: Johannes Bach; University of Helsinki
On the Use of Similes in MA Royal Texts

3:30 – 4:00: Coffee Break

4:00 – 4:45: Ben Dewar, University of Birmingham
The Burning of Captives in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions and Early Neo-Assyrian Conceptions of the Other

4:45 – 5:30: Eva Miller, University College London
Drawing Distinctions: Assyrians, Enemies, and Others in Neo-Assyrian Art

7:00: Dinner for Conference Participants


Saturday, August 24:

Assyria and Babylonia
Moderator: Johannes Bach; University of Helsinki

9:00 – 9:45: Güzin Eren, Boston University
Imperial Identity by Architecture: The Fortifications of Sardis in the Late 7th and 6th centuries BCE

9:45 – 10:30: Marta Lorenzon and Melanie Wasmuth, University of Helsinki
Where is the Border? Shifts in the South-Western Fringe Zone of the ANE Empires in the 1stMillennium BCE

10:30 – 10:45: Coffee

10:45 – 11:30: John P. Nielsen, Bradley University
Assyrian Engagement with Chaldea and the Emergence of Chaldean Power in Babylonia

11:30 – 12:15: Michael Kozuh, Auburn University
The Roving Other: Shepherds, Ungovernable Spaces, and Imperial Authority

12:15 – 1:30: Lunch

Successors of Mesopotamia: Later Empires and Biblical Traditions
Moderator: Jason Silverman, University of Helsinki

1:30 – 2:15: Silvia Balatti, Kiel University
Being Yauna: the Limits of Imperial Integration at the Western Margins of the Achaemenid Empire

2:15 – 3:00: Jennifer Finn, Marquette University
Making a Third Space in Susa: Achaemenid Displays of the Periphery in the Center

3:00 – 3:30: Coffee

3:30 – 4:15: Ehud Ben Zvi, University of Alberta
The Art of Bracketing Empire Out and Creating Parallel Worlds: The Case of late Persian Yehud

4:15 – 5:00: Hanna Tervanotko; McMaster University
“You Must Now Learn to Imitate the Abhorrent Practices of those Nations:” Ancient Jewish Texts and Polemics against Divination

5:00 – 5:45: Martti Nissinen and Saana Svärd; University of Helsinki
Response and Final Discussion

For further information and questions, please contact Gina Konstantopoulos: gina.konstantopoulos@helsinki.fi


Cover photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Assyrian_king_Shalmaneser_III_receives_tribute_from_Sua,_king_of_Gilzanu,_The_Black_Obelisk..JPG

Upcoming Lecture: “Di­a­spora Na­tion; or, What is the Jews?” and Workshop on Gender and Religious Identity

You may be interested in the following upcoming public  Collegium Lecture in Helsinki at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies. The theme of the lecture is very much relevant also to CSTT related research.

“Di­a­spora Na­tion; or, What is the Jews?” by Daniel Boyarin, Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric, UC Berkeley.

Time: Monday, May 27 at 5 pm (with re­cep­tion)

Venue: Uni­versity of Helsinki Main Build­ing, Small Hall (Fa­bi­aninkatu 33, 4th floor)


In this lecture, I will contend that the binary opposition: The Jews is a religion/The Jews is a nation is based on a false dichotomy. It is further flawed by the assumption that nation is tantamount to nation-state such that only the option “religion” constitutes an oppositional position vis-a-vis a Jewish nation state. I will discuss scholarship that proves definitively that many–if not most–early Zionist political thought did not involve the building of a state. The bulk of the lecture will outline the idea of a Diaspora Nation as the once and (possible) future for the continued existence of the Jews.

For more information about the event and the speaker, visit the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies website.

Workshop: Gender and Religious Identity

There will also be a workshop before the lecture on May 27 organized in honour of the visit by Boyarin. The theme is Gender and Religious Identity, and speakers include Martti Nissinen, Saana Svärd, Outi Lehtipuu, and many others. The workshop is open for all: for more information click here.

The Program of the Workshop:

9.00: Martti Nissinen, HY: The Agency of the Female Prophets of the Hebrew Bible: Independent or Instrumental? Prophetic or Political?

9.30: Saana Svärd, HY: Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East

10.00: Outi Lehtipuu, HY: “No Male and Female”: Gender and the Rhetoric of Recognition in Early Christianity

10.30-11.00 Coffee break

11.00: Susanna Asikainen, HY: Investigating Emphasized Femininities in the Rewritten Biblical Narratives

11.30: Katharina Keim, Lund: Women and Gender in Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer

12.00-13.00: Lunch break

13.00-1530: Re­li­gious iden­tity ses­sion

13.00: Antti Vanhoja & Nina Nikki, HY: Paulinism and Anti-Paulinism: Cultural Evolutionary Perspectives

13.30: Pekka Lindqvist, ÅA: Confrontations and Exegesis in Early Judaism

14.00-14.30: Coffee break

14.30: Maijastina Kahlos, HY: Pagans, Heretics, or Sorcerers? Labels and Identities in Local Religion in the Fifth Century CE

15.00: Riikka Tuori, HY: Karaite Identity in Early Modern Europe


The cover picture is from the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv – en:Beit Hatefutsot. Exhibit showing “One culture:Many facets. The growth of pluralism in modern jewish spiritual life.” By Sodabottle / Wikimedia Commons.

Understanding Jewish Ritual Baths: Archaeometric insights into the production of its plaster

In last month’s Yliopisto Lehti, Rick Bonnie’s fieldwork in Israel was featured. Together with Dr. Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä and Dr. Paula Kouki, Rick has been sampling the plaster of stepped pools (commonly identified as Jewish ritual baths) across various sites in Israel in order to conduct archaeometric analysis. The aim of the research is to get better insights into the production of these pools and whether their ritual functioning also had an impact on the materials used for constructing these pools.


The fieldwork forms part of the University of Helsinki-funded project “Religious Responses to Climate Change in the Southern Levant: Understanding the rise and fall of Jewish ritual purification baths in the Hasmonean-Roman period.” This project, which runs from 2019 to 2021, aims at examining to what extent environmental factors affected the introduction, change and upkeep of Jewish water purification rituals in the southern Levant from around the late second century BCE into the second and third centuries CE.

Video: Miten historiaa tutkitaan?

Miten historiaa tutkitaan? Mikä rooli lähdekritiikillä on kirjallisten ja arkeologisten lähteiden tulkinnassa? Entä voiko kuvista johtaa historiallista tietoa?

Huippuyksiköiden “Pyhät tekstit ja traditiot muutoksessa” ja “Muinaisen lähi-idän imperiumit” videosarjan toisessa osassa käsitellään historiallisen tutkimuksen menetelmiä. Videolla eksegetiikan professori Martti Nissinen, arkeologian yliopistonlehtori Antti Lahelma ja eksegetiikan tohtorikoulutettava Sanna Saari kertovat tutkimuksen menetelmistä ja mielenkiintoisista tapausesimerkeistä.

Videolla selviää myös, minkälaista tietoa arkeologit voivat johtaa roskapusseista ja miten suomalaiset tutkijat ovat valottaneet Indiana Jonesistakin tuttua arkeologista kohdetta.

Videosarjan ensimmäinen osa käsitteli Raamatun muutosten tutkimusta ja sen voi katsella täältä. Sarjan kaksi viimeistä osaa julkaistaan vuoden 2019 aikana ja niissä käsitellään englanniksi muinaista maahanmuuttoa ja sukupuolentutkimuksen näkökulmia muinaisen Lähi-idän ymmärtämiseen.

Call For Pa­per: Liv­ing Communities and Their Archaeologies, Helsinki, 12–14 Sept. 2019

We are happy to announce the Call for Papers for the “Living Communities and Their Archaeologies: From the Middle East to the Nordic Countries” conference (LiveArch2019), hosted at the University of Helsinki, from Thursday 12 September to Saturday 14 September 2019.

It is our pleasure to announce that the following keynote speakers: Shatha Abu Khafajah (Hashemite University), Tawfiq Da’adli (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Paula Kouki (Director of Cultural services, Museums and Events, Town of Hamina, Finland), and Gabriel Moshenska (University College London)

Paper proposals can now be submitted via the EasyChair CFP platform: https://easychair.org/cfp/LiveArch2019. Please note that the deadline for submission is 30 April 2019.

The “Living Communities and Their Archaeologies” conference welcomes presentations addressing the fundamental issue of what we understand as “community archaeology”. This seemingly simple question refers both to the “communities” and the “archaeologies” concerned, and to the interrelations between them. Which communities are we addressing when doing community archaeology (and which are ignored)? What approaches to archaeology do we employ? Is it only excavation, does community archaeology end when the excavation season is over? How do we affect the community in which (or with which) we work? How does the community affect us, the archaeologists? And how can we measure and explain success or failure of “community archaeology” projects?

These questions are still to be expanded upon within the contexts of Middle Eastern archaeology and archaeology in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The aim of this conference is to think critically about relationships between communities and archaeologies theoretically as well as by discussing practical cases from cultures that are quite different from each other.

We especially welcome paper proposals that focus on the following themes within the geographical contexts of the Middle East and/or the Nordic and Baltic countries:

  • Defining and reflecting on “community” in community archaeology;
  • Archaeologists as a community in themselves;
  • Which archaeologies to employ in community archaeology;
  • Measuring the success and failure of community archaeology.

We are happy to emphasise that accommodation cost for the full duration of the conference will be covered by the organisers for all presenters whose papers are selected.

More information about the conference can be found on our website: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/conferences/living-communities-and-their-archaeologies

Organizers: Rick Bonnie, Suzie Thomas, Raz Kletter, and Marta Lorenzon

Photo courtesy of G. Sulymani.